The 88th annual Academy Awards, hosted by comedian Chris Rock, are broadcasting live Sunday at 8 p.m. on ABC. This year’s Oscars have garnered a lot of attention. For the second year in a row, the nominees for all the top acting categories include only white people. This sparked a movement – #OscarsSoWhite – to ensure minorities are better represented in all categories. The Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences has responded to this movement by promising to double the number of minorities and women in the Academy by 2020. The organization also plans to limit the lifetime voting rights of existing members, some of whom have been retired from Hollywood for years.
I talked to Noah Stern, an adjunct professor of screenwriting at GW, and former professor of the same subject at the University of Southern California. Stern knows the Hollywood scene because he’s lived in it. Plus, he watches a lot of films – many more than the members of the Academy probably do. Having just visited Los Angeles, Stern has a pretty good idea about which nominees are winning which categories, but he doesn’t necessarily agree with those picks. He told me his thoughts on not only what will happen, but also which nominees should actually win.
Let’s start with the top acting categories. For Best Actor, Stern predicts Leonardo DiCaprio will win for his role as a stranded frontiersman fighting for survival after being attacked by a bear in “The Revenant.” That’s right: it’s very likely that Leo is finally going to be an Oscar winning actor. Stern agrees that Leo should win, at least in competition with the other nominees who are Bryan Cranston (“Trumbo”), Matt Damon (“The Martian”), Michael Fassbender (“Steve Jobs”) and Eddie Redmayne (“The Danish Girl”). Though he noted, like my mom always does, that the reason Leo doesn’t ever win is because it doesn’t matter what role he’s playing: you always see Leo, not the character he’s portraying.
Stern said “Creed” was overall overlooked, but especially for directing, writing and performance categories. He specifically noted that Michael B. Jordan should’ve been nominated for Best Actor for his role as Adonis Johnson, an aspiring boxer who lands Rocky Balboa as his mentor.
For Best Actress, Stern said the Academy will give it to Brie Larson, who stars in “Room,” the movie, based on the novel by the same name, about a mother and son living in captivity and their escape to the real world. Stern said Larson carried the film, but, in his opinion, she didn’t carry it as well as Saoirse Ronan carried “Brooklyn.”
“Let’s be motherfuckers: she’s better,” Stern said, also commenting on Ronan’s superb acting in “Atonement” (2007) and “Hanna” (2011).
The difference between Larson and Ronan, Stern said, is that Larson’s career will die, but Ronan’s will prosper. “That girl,” Stern said, referring to Ronan, “is going to be a big, fat star.”
The other nominees for Best Actress are Cate Blanchett (“Carol”), Jennifer Lawrence (“Joy”) and Charlotte Rampling (“45 Years”).
For Best Picture, Stern said “The Revenant” will most likely win because the film is “heavy, serious and arduous.” To Stern, a movie being difficult to make shouldn’t make it more worthy of winning. He said “The Revenant” could’ve been shot entirely in front of a green screen and the outcome would’ve been the same. Having just come back from LA, Stern said the talk around Hollywood is that “The Big Short,” the movie depicting the lead up to the financial crisis of 2008, is still a serious contender. Stern said he’d give the award to “The Revenant” over “The Big Short,” but also added that “Mad Max: Fury Road” would win if it wasn’t an action film because the Academy won’t pick a “genre” film.
Finally, let’s talk writing, Stern’s domain. For Writing (Adapted Screenplay), Stern said “The Martian” and “The Big Short” are going head to head, but noted that “The Big Short” is a much harder book to adapt.
“I’m going to give it to ‘The Big Short,'” he said, “That’s one hell of an adaption.”
Stern thinks “The Big Short” should win, but also said Nick Hornby’s adaptation of “Brooklyn” was “beautifully done.”
For Writing (Original Screenplay), Stern said “Ex Machina,” a story about a software engineer who wins the chance to meet, and spend a week with, the CEO of the company he works for, deserves to win, regarding it as one of the best screenplays this year. (Seriously, though, watch “Ex Machina.”) Stern said it won’t win, though. He predicts the Academy will go for “Spotlight,” which depicts the Boston Globe’s investigation and exposure of Catholic priests molesting children, and the Church’s role in covering it up. Stern said this film is an “HBO movie,” but that’s not even what angers him the most about this probable win. Stern thinks it’s doesn’t even belong in this category (he thinks the same thing about “Bridge of Lies” and “Straight Outta Compton”) because its based on historical records from the Boston Globe.
“If I was watching – and I’m not,” said Stern, “I would throw popcorn at the TV.”
Wait, hold up. Did he just say he wasn’t watching the Oscars? Why isn’t someone who appreciates film as much as Stern watching what’s regarded by many as the most important awards show for that very thing?
Besides the fact that the show goes on, unnecessarily, for fucking hours, Stern isn’t watching it because he doesn’t think we should judge films based on their performance at the Oscars.
“The Academy is fucking Iowa,” he said.
“The Academy is fucking Iowa.”
The members of the Academy are predominantly white, predominantly male and include many people who haven’t actually been in the business for years. While there’s been huge controversy about diversity within the group choosing the nominees and winners for the Oscars, which Stern agrees is a problem, especially among Latinos, the problem isn’t just diversity within the Oscars. The problem starts with the people choosing which scripts get produced by major studios and the people casting these movies. Yes, there’s a serious lack of diversity in the nominations for the Academy Awards, but the bigger problem is the serious lack of diversity in films, in general. That problem can’t be fixed by futile attempts to make the members of the Academy more diverse.
“The only good thing about the diversity issue is that it’s shedding light on who these people are,” Stern said, referring to the members of the Academy. He said we shouldn’t give the people picking the winners this much attention because they aren’t a representative group – not by gender, age or race.
The first Academy Awards were for publicity – to get people to go to the movies. Now, at the 88th Academy Awards, they still are. Remember that when deciding what movie to watch.